The Midlands & Northern Independent Schools’ Cross-Country Championships has a long and proud tradition going back over 55 years, with previous winners including a certain Alastair Brownlee who went on to win Olympic gold in the London 2012 triathlon. Shrewsbury’s Hunt has won the Senior Boys title seven times in the 55 years of competition (with individual champions in Oli Laws in 1996 and 1998 and Ed Mallett in 2013) and whilst last year saw the end of an unprecedented run of three titles in a row, there was an impressive victory for the Junior Boys (the only other time that the Hunt have won the title was in 2011 when Shrewsbury last hosted the event) with Freddie Huxley-Fielding becoming the third Hunt runner to win the individual junior title following in the footsteps of last year’s Huntsman Rory Fraser and Simon Black in the first year of the Junior competition in 1998. The highlight of last year’s competition, however, was a first team victory for our girls at this level and a first individual title for Tory Mobley.
After a tough course on the hills of Sedbergh last year, it was Shrewsbury’s turn to host the event this year on a course of our own design. There would be tough competition from some strong opposition but ‘home advantage’ would mean we would be able to put out large squads for the races.
Indeed, in the first of the day’s races, the Hunt put out two teams of six runners and were able to pack in well in the early stages of the race. By this point the heavens had unleashed an unrelenting deluge of rainfall and conditions were therefore pretty tough out there. Owen Mock (R) revealed himself to be something of a fair-weather runner by running the opening 400m as if it was Sports Day and then deciding he didn’t really like running in the rain, fading back through the field as the race progressed. Step in Monty Hardcastle (I) and Third Former Harry Remnant (Ch) who showed no signs of tiredness following his rugby match for the U14As (still undefeated!) the previous day.
The lead pair from Wellingborough established a commanding lead but with Monty coming home in bronze position in a time of 14.47 for the 2.5-mile course and Harry just a second behind in fourth, the Hunt began their defence of their title. Crucially, counters three and four came home not far behind both in the top 10 (Third Formers Toby Pegge (PH) in 8th in a time of 15.17 and Ben Henderson (S) in 10th in 15.22). This brought home a team total of 27 points with Wellingborough unable to add to their top pair’s efforts and falling to 4th in the overall team rankings.
In fact it was the Hunt’s Junior ‘B’ team who took team silver with a team total of 58, five points ahead of Malvern College. Third Formers Charlie Ockleston of Oldham’s (11th), Will Barton of Port Hill (12th) and Alex Schoelles of Oldham’s (21st) were invaluable in the cause, aided by some strong support from Fourth Formers Sam Bayliss and Jamie Crawley of Ridgemount (14th and 25th) and Niklas Amthor of Rigg’s (16th). It has been very exciting to see so much inter-year group competition between our promising Third Formers and it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict the order in which they will finish! Certainly it was a terrific start to the day as the Hunt retained the Junior R.S.S.H. Cup (appropriately!) for the first time.
The Open Girls ran next and follow the same 2.5-mile course that encompassed much of the school campus before dropping down the bank and along the river before returning for a Top Common finish emerging rain-sodden and mud-drenched. A weakened girls’ squad were without four key runners but they were determined to put in a strong performance even if retaining the Stowe Shield would be difficult. The girls got out of the blocks quickly, though perhaps too quickly in one or two cases as the race progressed and some of our squad faded into the middle of the pack. Showing strong stamina and perseverance, however, was Olivia Papaioannou (EDH LVI) who moved into a podium position in the early stages of the race and by halfway had closed the gap on the race leader from Malvern. Going down Oldham’s Gap, Papaioannou was on her heels and looking strong. As they emerged through the Moss Gates for the final finish following the steep climb up the School bank, it was the Malvern runner in the lead, though 12 seconds behind in 15.24 Papaiaonnou had held on for individual silver, well clear of Wrekin’s lead runner in third. She has been in superb form all season and is beginning to realise her potential.
Behind her an impressive run from Third Former Sophia Dickson (MSH) saw her come home in 18th, closely followed by Abby Attenborough, a decent scalp to push ahead of her UVIth housemate! The fourth counter - Martha Pownall also of MSH - was a matter of seconds behind again in 22nd position, with Fourth Former Immie Evans of The Grove coming home in 24th out of over 50 runners, ensuring all girls' houses were represented in the race! A team total of 61 points was a respectable effort given the runners who were missing, but alas the Stowe Shield would be presented elsewhere this year to Malvern College (two points ahead of Sedbergh with 27 points).
In the final race of the day, the Senior Boys contested the championship over the longer 4-mile course, and the Hunt were determined to challenge their rivals Sedbergh with a strong performance. A total of 21 Hunt runners took to the startline and from the off Huntsman Theo Clarke (S UVI) and Oscar Dickins (R LVI) were amongst the lead runners. Like the animals entering Noah’s ark before the biblical deluge, it seemed that most schools were opting for this policy of ‘two by two’, with the race leaders in the opening kilometres being a pair from Welbeck College, followed by a pair from Sedbergh and not far behind the Hunt’s own pair. All that was missing was an ark.
The big hill bringing the runners up from the river to the Queen’s Terrace allowed the opportunity for the Sedbergh runners to demonstrate their hill strength and by the end of the first lap they had overhauled their Welbeck rivals and looked in imperious form. Indeed, they ran the remainder of the race together before a final sprint finish to claim the title. Over forty seconds behind came the Welbeck pair before Theo crossed the line in 5th and Oscar in 6th (24.03 and 24.08).
With six to count in the Senior Boys race, there was good packing behind, with all four remaining counters coming through together in 12th-15th (Will Hayward (R) in 12th, Charlie Rogers (Rb) in 13th, Charlie Godman (M) in 14th and Charlie Tait-Harris (S) in 15th). A team total of 65 points was a strong effort though not quite enough to overhaul Sedbergh’s impressive 45 points, allowing them to retain the appropriately named ‘Nutter Cup’.
The Hunt, nevertheless, demonstrated their strength in depth with the ‘B’ team placing fourth overall, beating ‘A’ teams from the likes of Malvern College, Adams’ Grammar and Rugby. Amongst their number there was a breakthrough performance from Lower Sixth Former Rory Marsden (Rt), who placed in the top half of a very strong field and ran in such a manner as to suggest that he could be a key runner for the Hunt next year as he moves into his final year at the School.
A good day of racing, then, and whilst the conditions were tough and there was some disappointment not to have brought home the senior trophies, there was nevertheless some encouragement with superb performances in the juniors which certainly bodes well for the future.